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Chile - Elections 2001

Chile is a multiparty democracy with a constitution that provides for a strong executive, a bicameral legislature, and a separate judiciary. Approved by referendum in 1980 and amended in 1989, the Constitution was written under the former mili tary government and retains certain institutional limits on popular rule. In January 2000, voters elected Ricardo Lagos of the Socialist Party as president in a free and fair runoff election. He defeated center-right candidate Joaquin Lavin of the Alliance for Chile coalition. All three presidents elected since the country returned to democ racy in 1990 have been members of the four-party “Concertacion” coalition. The Na tional Congress consists of 120 deputies and 49 senators; this includes 9 designated senators and 2 former presidents who are senators-for-life, although former President Augusto Pinochet had been suspended pending an investigation into his alleged responsibility for human rights violations.

Voters went to the polls on 16 December 2001 in congressional elections. Some eight million Chileans were expected to cast their votes to replace all 120 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 19 of the 38 directly elected senators. Eleven other senatorial seats were held by appointees and former Heads of State. The results narrowed the Concertacion coalition's lead in the lower house from 70–50 to 63–57.

Eleven years after the restoration of democracy following a 17-year military dictatorship, the main campaign issues included unemployment and a struggling economy. In the run-up to the elections, some of the weaknesses of Chile's electoral system, such as the apathy of young voters and the exclusion of small parties, were highlighted. The centre-left coalition in power saw its hopes of reforming the Constitution left by former dictator Augusto Pinochet battered, as it lost seats in the Senate following the elections, but maintained control of both Houses.

Santiago's mayor Joaquín Lavín, who led the right wing opposition Alliance for Chile, made the most gains winning 44% of the vote, with a total of 57 seats out of 120 in the Chamber of Deputies. Lavín's party, Independent Democratic Union, UDI, almost doubled its total vote since the previous legislative election in 1997, becoming the party with the most seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Indeed it won a total of 35 seats up from 22, thus toppling the Christian Democrats as the most important single political force in the country since the return of democracy. The high unemployment rate (9.7% in October 2001, compared with 5.3% in 1997) was cited by the local press as the main reason for the slightly lower support for President Ricardo Lagos's ruling coalition. Lagos' coalition obtained 48 percent of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies (62 seats) and 51 per cent of the votes cast to renew half of the Senate positions. The newly elected Congress was convened in March 2002.

The Government still operates under some political restraints that the military regime imposed. Under the 1980 Constitution, various national institutions—includ ing the President, the Supreme Court, and the National Security Council (the latter acting on nominations by the armed forces) — appoint an additional nine Senators (beyond those elected) to 8-year terms. In addition, former presidents Pinochet and Frei exercised their option to become senators-for-life. Pinochet has been suspended pending an investigation into his alleged responsibility for human rights violations. The former military government wrote the 1980 Constitution, and amended it slightly in 1989 after losing a referendum on whether General Pinochet should stay in office as president.

The Constitution provides for a strong presidency and a legislative branch with limited powers. It includes provisions designed to protect the in terests of the military and places limits on majority rule. These provisions include limitations on the President's right to remove the commanders in chief of the three armed services, and the Carabineros, certain types of legislation that require super majorities, and the provision for nonelected senators. In January the IACHR issued a resolution criticizing the existence of designated senators and senators-for-life and urged the Government to end the practice.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2020 18:53:03 ZULU